Japanese Bonsai Terminology

After reviewing my score sheet from my recent bonsai show, I realized how few of the Japanese bonsai terms I really knew. I had always been familiar with the more common ones like jin, shari, nebari, shohin, and so on, but there were a number that I had never heard of before. Not wanting to find myself in a conversation and not know what the other person means, I decided to do a bit of research and learn more of them.

  • CHOKKAN formal upright form
  • MOYOGI informal upright form
  • SHAKAN slanting form
  • FUKINAGASHI windswept form
  • SABAMIKI split-trunk
  • SHARIMIKI driftwood
  • TANUKI ‘cheats’/form where sapling is attached to deadwood/ also known as a ‘Pheonix Graft’.
  • HOKIDACHI broom form
  • KENGAI cascade
  • HAN KENGAI semi-cascade
  • SHIDARE-ZUKURI weeping
  • BUNJIN literati form
  • NEGARI exposed root form
  • SEKJOJU root over rock
  • ISHI SEKI planted on rock
  • SOKAN twin-trunk
  • SANKAN triple-trunk
  • KABUDACHI multiple-trunk
  • NETSUNAGARI root connected
  • YOSE UE group planting
  • SAI-KEI landscape planting
  • PEN-JING landscape planting
  • SHARI deadwood on trunk
  • JIN deadwood branch
  • NEBARI trunkbase/ surface roots
  • YAMADORI collected material
  • SUIBAN shallow water tray for display rock plantings
  • TOKONOMA traditional Japanese display area
  • BONKEI tray landscape containing rocks and small accent plants as well as trees.

Size classifications: exact sizes for each individual class varies from one authority to another; those below are taken from the 20th Grand View Bonsai Exhibition / Nippon Bonsai Taikan-ten.

  • MAME bonsai less than 7cm in height
  • SHOHIN bonsai upto 20cm in height
  • KIFU bonsai between 20 and 40cm in height
  • CHU bonsai between 40 and 60 cm in height
  • DAI bonsai over 60cm in height

2005 New England Bonsai Show

Last Saturday, New England Bonsai Gardens held their annual Fall members day and bonsai show. For years now I’ve been attending this event, but it was only this year that I finally decided to enter my best tree into the show. I’ve owned the Japanese Maple I entered for six years now, and have taken a number of private tutorials with John Romano and Kenji Miyata to get the tree where it is today.

Going into the show, I had very high hopes for my tree to do well. After all the scores were tallied, however, I received no awards. Reading the score sheet I was extremely interested to find that my tree scored quite low on surface roots, which are known as nebari. I was surprised not only because the nebari on the tree is quite pronounced and prominent, but because I had always felt that the surface roots were one of the strongest points about the specimen.

Talking with the judges, I discovered that, while the nebari is nice where it is present, there are not enough surface roots surrounding the trunk to create an overall pleasing effect. Because the tree has only one truly pronounced surface root, it gives the impression of a “foot” and not the general effect of age and strength found in trees with truly exquisite nebari.

Nebari, being one of the most difficult features of a tree to develop, is a major factor when selecting bonsai for the purposes of show. In many cases, the Japanese, always looking to the future, will select a tree based almost entirely on the quality of its nebari and resolve whatever other aesthetic problems the tree has by pruning and wiring over time.

To resolve my tree’s nebari problems, I will need to do the following:

Year 1: Root cuttings from the tree
Year 2-3: Grow out cuttings
Year 4: Graft cuttings to base of trunk
Year 4-5: Allow graft to take
Year 5: Bury grafts, remove foliage, and get them to sprout roots
Year 6-Futire: Grow out roots and let them grow bark